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France Celebrates Summer With All-night Music Fest; NY Swings Along

France celebrated the summer solstice in the wee small hours Friday with an all-night music festival in cities and towns that drew 10 million revellers onto the streets , while New York swung along for the first time.

In Paris, the mood and vibe changed from area to area. Thousands flocked to Abbesses on the slopes of Montmartre and danced in the narrow streets as small-time artists enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame, while locals blasted their own music from the windows above.

Further south in Chatelet and Les Halles the summer air crackled to rock rhythms, electric guitar and even the music of the Andes. Those in search of the bigger events could attend one of the many concerts specially organised for the "Fete de la Musique" -- an annual celebration of music launched in 1982.

The night sees everything from buskers to amateur bands entertain the masses in street parties, while stars take to the stage in around 18,000 free concerts, from Marseille to Metz and from Bayonne to Brest. One of France's top artists, Renaud, performed at a prison in the northern Pas-de-Calais region, one of the 150 concerts organised in detention centres across the country.

A concert in Montmartre supported calls for the release of Franco-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt, a former presidential candidate who was kidnapped in 2002 by rebels. New York on Thursday also held its very first all-day music festival, with hundreds of free concerts across the city gathered under the banner "Make Music New York". "It's amazing, they like it, it's very positive," said artist-songwriter Larry Stevens, as he entertained the lunchtime crowds munching on sandwiches in the shadow of the business district's skyscrapers.

Outside the United Nations, Dianne Carr, who had organised a concert for children, said: "It's extraordinary, it's unique. It's the first time and people are a little shocked. People love it. We have to catch up with Eu rope." The festival was launched by former French culture minister Jack Lang, who created the French Fete de la Musique 25 years ago, and travelled to New York especially to join in the festivities.

"The fact it's taking place in New York is a milestone for Fete de la Musique," said Lang as he promoted the event at the Mets baseball stadium. "New York is New York. The cultural capital, an American but also European city, a city full of heart and spirit, which has suffered and has risen from its ashes; full of creativity, partly myth but also very real." With Paris set to stay up till morning, the metro (subway) was running through the night, and museums and other heritage sites were being kept open for concerts such as Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, conducted by Kurt Masur in the Orsay museum, or Berlioz at the Senate.

The music festival has caught on worldwide with 400 cities shutting off streets this year and setting up makeshift stages to make way for musicians. Spanish Latin Grammy-winner Miguel Bose was leading events in Madrid, while the Rolling Stones were expected to steal the show with their performance in Barcelona.

In Syria, the palaces of Damascus opened their doors to traditional musicians while in Switzerland, DJs set up along the shores of Lake Geneva. One of the most well-attended festivals of the year in France, the Fete de la Musique is also one of the rowdiest. June 21 is the "worst day of the year at the hospital emergency units," said Patrick Pelloux, president of an association representing doctors who work at emergency units.


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